Letter 8 – 01.04.20 Short Love Poems

So the world is pretty crazy right now. And by pretty crazy I mean we’re facing a seemingly out of control global pandemic that has caused unrest and lockdowns unlike anything that has been seen before.

Right now, we are all literally making history – which is a crazy thing to think about. Amongst the chaos, I am currently existing in my own little oasis at home where things are moving along pretty normally. I have masses of uni work that keeps me distracted, my sister and I have been baking and I can still take Daisy out for her walk to get some fresh air. But every so often I spend a few hours reading the news and get overwhelmed with the tragedies many other people are facing. I realise how lucky I am to be surrounded by love and family.

At this scary time I thought I would try to spread some love by posting a few very short love poems that I wrote a while ago and frequently return to as they always make me smile. I hope you like them 🙂

1.

So if you hold me now,

Take my hand and drown these thoughts out,

Pull me close and whisper,

You’ll be alright, I am with you now,

Just kiss me ’till the sun goes down.

2.

And it’s not been easy,

At times I though one of us would break,

But we’ve kept the pieces together,

Oh, what a story our love makes.

3.

Everyday I thank the stars that I found you,

Everything you say sets my heart on fire.

And I can’t help but smile when your beautiful brown eyes,

Are staring at mine.

It’s like a scene from a movie, a line from a song,

A story to tell when we’re old, and while we’re young,

And I’d like to thank you, for being so strong,

‘Cos I can’t live without you, now I know I’ve found the one.

Stay strong everyone. I know many people will be feeling lonely, scared and will be worried about loved ones who they are separated from. But this will pass. Please stay at home. And remember, love always wins.

Sophie Xxx

Letter 7 – Cold Feet 17.01.19

I turn the key and open the door,

The air is cold and damp clings to the walls.

I drop my suitcase on the empty floor,

And sink onto the side of the bed.

Here in the attic, I hear nothing except the raindrops on the window.

Here in the attic, I hear nothing except the ticking of a small clock.

Here in the attic, I hear nothing except my own slow breathing.

I am alone. The attic and I.

Soon, no light shines through the window,

My cold fingers fumble at the duvet.

I climb into the empty bed,

And curl my body up into a ball.

Here in the attic, I close my eyes but don’t sleep.

Here in the attic, I hug my pillow for company.

Here in the attic, a tear falls onto the sheet.

I am alone. The attic and I.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I always find change difficult, and coming back to university after the holidays felt like a big change. The first few days I struggled to sleep, and even after spending hours with my friends, coming into my room felt like entering another world.

I wrote this poem after a few days of struggling to get back into a routine, but can happily look back at it now from a much more comfortable and happier place.

What I wanted to say, is that it’s okay to find things difficult sometimes, but always be positive that things will get better and before long you will find that things are okay again.

Thank you to all my amazing friends who help me feel at home while I’m at university. It took some time, but now I’m glad to be back 🙂

Sophie Xxx

My Thoughts on ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ by Matt Haig

The first time I read this book was in the summer of 2018 and, though I loved it when I first read it, over the last year it has become even more relevant to me. Since starting university my life has gone from 0-100 and with it my mental health has been a little rockier than it used to be. So rereading this book a few days ago, I thought it might be beneficial to write a review and share some of it’s wise words.

The first thing that makes this book a refreshing read is it’s frankness about the realities of mental illness from a male perspective. Haig criticises the toxic stereotypes surrounding male displays of emotion, and speaks openly about his experience suffering from extreme depressive episodes and anxiety. With the perfect balance of personal anecdotes and statistics from scientific studies, he opens up conversations regarding mental health across both genders.

He discusses the truth about social media that we need constant reminding of – most of the time it is damaging.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’

Theodore Roosevelt

Instagram and Facebook often lead us to comparing the worst bits of ourselves with the carefully-selected best bits of others. If used in the right ways, social media can be social, and a place for people who feel alone in a situation to find others who understand. But it can also make people feel insecure through constantly comparing their lives and bodies to friends, influencers and even models.

‘Do not seek out stuff that makes you unhappy. Do not measure your own worth against other people.’

Matt Haig

In September I deleted Instagram for 6 months. I have always been insecure about my body and used to strive to be the ‘skinniest’. Growing up and inevitably gaining weight terrified me, and seeing perfect bodies on Instagram was beginning to drag my confidence down even further.

The book focuses on the fact the world is overloading us – if it was a person, it would be turning mad. Haig discusses the negative aspects of society to make us aware and therefore able to detach ourselves from them. With chapters on news, the negative intentions of marketing, sleep and the internet, he addresses many modern concepts that have contributed towards a rise in mental illnesses across the last the last 20 years.

The most important element of this book is its message of hope. Yes, the world may be going a little crazy, but it is possible to lead a happy life among the chaos. The solutions he gives revolve around disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature, our bodies and our minds. Stop fighting against the clock; stop comparing yourself to others; stop worrying about insignificant things; stop being afraid of changing your perspective on the world.

He preaches acceptance – of our bodies, our current situations, the situations of others and the fact that we can’t plan our future; we just have to let it be. This is something that really hit home for me. I worry incessantly about everything, especially things that might happen in the future but probably won’t, or if they do are out of my control anyway. The way to combat this is to live in the moment; why delay happiness to a point in the future (when I have a job, when I have a house…) instead of just being happy right now?

‘Maybe the point of life is to give up certainty and to embrace life’s beautiful uncertainty’

Matt Haig

The final chapter, entitled Everything you are is enough, reminded me that comparison is futile – to be happy, we must realise that we are already complete people, and that instead of seeking more all we need are the simple things. All we need is food, water, music, shelter, people to talk to and care for and love and that in itself constitutes a full life.

Talking is the most important thing. Being there for other people to talk to is the most important thing. You don’t have to be 100% put together, you can be a mess but still a happy mess.

Finally, I want to end quoting my favourite page of the book – a list of things to always remember.

Remember

Feeling you have no time doesn’t mean you have no time.

Feeling you are ugly doesn’t mean you are ugly.

Feeling anxious doesn’t mean you need to be anxious.

Feeling you haven’t achieved enough doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved enough.

Feeling you lack things doesn’t make you less complete.

Matt Haig

I have attached a link to the book on Amazon, I would highly recommend it as a little guide to keeping calm when things get tough and remembering the things that really matter.

Letter 6 – 07.01.20 CATS Review

A few weeks ago I had the… interesting experience of seeing Cats at the cinema and thought I would add my views to the mass of criticism that’s been made so far.

When I was younger my mum took me to see the stage musical several times and I remember really enjoying it. So naturally we were very excited when we found out it was being made into a film with a pretty A-list cast. So before Christmas we dragged my boyfriend, sister, brother and his girlfriend to see it with us; and it brought mixed reviews.

First I want to discuss the things I actually enjoyed, because even though I don’t think it was a great film it wasn’t actually the worst thing I’ve seen. So here are its redeeming features:

  • The Choreography – Andy Blankenbuehler (the legendary choreographer of Hamilton) pulled out all the stops when choreographing for this film. Francesca Hayward, star of the Royal Ballet, was outstanding, with her solos perfectly showcasing her effortless technique. The decision to cast other trained dancers in lead roles also helped allow Blankenbuehler to create spectacular group dances that incorporated cat-like movements alongside other more modern styles. The film therefore did succeed in mirroring the dance difficulty of the stage musical.
  • The new song – As a theatre fan, I’m always sceptical when new songs are made for movie musicals and had doubts about a collaboration between Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, I really loved Beautiful Ghosts. Francesca Hayward’s incredibly clear and dainty voice suited the melancholic tone of the song extremely well, whilst the song itself also seemed to be embedded well within the narrative framework. And speaking of…
  • The attempt to form a narrative – A lot of the criticism the film has got is over its apparent lack of a narrative. Film theorist Bordwell Thompson wrote about the importance of narrative to audience expectations and, although it seemed plot-less, they actually did add more narrative to the film than existed in the original musical. I believe the enlargement of Victoria’s character was effective in trying to communicate the function of the ‘Jellicle cats’ to the audience, even if others don’t agree.

Now that I have listed a few positives, I thought I’d share some opinions from others who have seen the film, starting with my boyfriend James. With no prior knowledge of the stage musical, I dragged him with me to the cinema for, what would prove to be for him, a painful experience.

‘It was really bad. I don’t really have much more to say; the CGI was creepy and Memory, a song which I already knew, was good but not worth the wait.’

James (20)

The creepy aspect of the CGI didn’t go unnoticed by my best friend Eleanor, who also saw the film and is a fan of the stage musical, but perhaps not so much a fan of the film:

“Watching CATS the movie was a beautiful reminder of how wonderful the MUSICAL is. The high use of CGI, while impressive technically, meant it was often difficult to appreciate what was real and what was not. The music however was pure escapism, but as an overall film it was simply average and at times borderline disturbing.”

Eleanor (19)

The reason why the film was ‘disturbing’ for some was because of the uncannily realistic CGI effects which made the characters look half cat and half naked human.

If asked whether I would watch Cats again, I would probably say no, or at least not for about 10 years. However I would happily re-attend the stage musical, where catsuits and make-up aren’t as unsettling as CGI and where I can enjoy the interactive factor of the musical which the film medium is unable to capture.

So if you’re looking for something to see in the cinema and you don’t already know the stage musical, maybe give Cats a miss.

Letter 5 – 06.01.20 On a Monday Morning Walk

Trudging through ice-cream wafer leaves,

Tearing open unsealed envelopes with my feet.

Overhead, the birds communicate

Like whistles in a school sports hall.

The arms of the trees, plucked violin strings,

Quiver with a rush of the indecisive wind.

Glass bullets of dew drop

Into the snaking trenches of abandoned footsteps.

Sunbeams splinter through the wiry branches

And diffuse through mists of fairy breath.

Gazing upwards like a fish through algae-speckled water,

The clouds waltz among the smoke tracks of manmade birds.

Soon the sky will darken, leaving only

Birdsong,

Wind,

And the empty outlines of my shoes.

Just a little poem I wrote a while ago, came to mind when I was walking my dog this morning, hope you like it 🙂

Sophie Xxx

Letter 4 – 04.01.20 New Year, New Chapter

Hi, it’s Sophie and it’s been over a year since I last wrote. 2019 was one crazy year, and in the next few letters I’ll be reminiscing on some of the many many things that happened this year.

2020 has just begun. The decade of my 20s, which is both a scary and exciting thought. I want to keep this letter brief and just lay out my New Year Resolutions, or as my best friend calls them, my guidelines for this year.

1. Experiment with food – those close to me know I’ve never been the most adventurous cook; I used to eat plain pasta with cheese pretty much every day. However this last year, with the help of some uni friends, I began to try some new recipes, mostly vegetarian ones, and I would love to continue exploring more healthy meals this year. Maybe I’ll be MasterChef ready for 2021 😉

2. Go on more runs – the only times anyone would catch me running in the past was for a train or for a cookie, but in November I started going for short runs by the river near my house and my hatred for it has slowly decreased. Running still isn’t my favourite thing, but I feel so amazing after a run that I want to try and run at least a few times every week this year. I’ll definitely do a post to keep you updated!

3. Get some work experience/a job – Now that I only have a year and a half left of my degree I think it’s time to start preparing for… real life!! I’ve applied for editorial work experience at several publishing houses so far but I have realised it’s not going to be as easy as I thought. I’m going to keep trying over the next few months and hopefully will be able to report some good news on the job front before summer! Keeping my finger’s crossed!

4. Stop worrying so much – I have always been the type to worry about everything, even things that haven’t happened and probably never will. Whether it’s about exams, relationships, friendships, the possibility of being eaten by a shark, I worry about it all. So maybe I can try and scale it down a little bit this year, at least maybe not worry about sharks so much in Devon.

And that’s pretty much it, besides all the little ones like ‘eat less chocolate’ and ‘be more productive‘ which are more LIFE resolutions that apply every year. I’m excited to see what lies ahead in 2020, here’s hoping it’s the best yet 🙂

Sophie Xx

Letter 3 – 14.09.18 THAT Oxford Story

Friday 14th September 2018

“Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better” – Dr Steve Maraboli

Okay so if you know me personally, no, this isn’t THAT Oxford story – I’m not sharing that with the world… or not yet. This is my whole Oxford story- from application to… well… rejection.

I mentioned in my last post that my Year 10 English teacher had once said to my mum that ‘Sophie should study English lit at Oxford‘. And it’s true, that was probably one of the reasons why I’m doing an English degree now. I was never set on going to university- instead, I would’ve preferred moving to London and beginning a career in the performing arts (if only it was that simple). However, I went to a very academically demanding grammar school where I achieved extremely good GCSE results, and so not going to university seemed like a waste. And frankly, when I got to sixth form I wanted to go to university- adults always reminisced about their university days, and the lifestyle seemed appealing.

And so it was decided; I was going to university, but where?

My English teacher’s comment, combined with my GCSE results, meant that I was placed on the expected Oxbridge applicants list at my school, and so I went to open days and lectures at both Oxford and Cambridge to help me decide which one to apply for. What’s funny is that I always said that I preferred Cambridge, however in the end, Oxford felt more familiar (probably because my brother went there and it was much closer so I had been many times). And so at the last minute, I sent off my personal statement to Oxford.

The process of applying to Oxbridge is soooo much longer than for other universities. For most, you send off your predicted grades along with your personal statement and then await their offer. For Oxford (English at least), there were many more stages to the process…

  1. Send off your personal statement and predicted grades (same as everywhere)
  2. THEN send off a sample of some of your recent written work
  3. THEN sit the ELAT entrance exam
  4. THEN (if you get this far) attend your dreaded Oxford Interviews…

Interviews at Oxford include a full on field trip. When you choose to apply here you either submit an open application to any college, or you select one college from the 30-odd options which will be like your ‘home’ for your 3/4 years. I had chosen St John’s (which on reflection was one of three colleges my brother told me NOT to apply to because they were notoriously hard to get into), oh well. I had attended a selective English study day there and the fact it was a big college with lots of English tutors appealed to me, and so I applied.

Me in St John's

This meant that at the start of December I took the train from my hometown up to Oxford, walked to St John’s with my brother and began my interview experience. You are given a room inside college, which gives you a sense of what you could be living in during your first year. That sense for me unfortunately was a little underwhelming. The college boasted some impressive buildings with some lovely rooms, however my top-floor room in Tommy White building 1 was narrower than the winding corridor leading to it. Still, it didn’t put me off the college entirely, and I waved goodbye to my brother and headed to the JCR (junior common room) to meet some of the other interview candidates. There I met Leo and Caroline, and we hung out together for most of that day.

I was in Oxford for 3 and a 1/2 days, and seeing as my interviews only took place on one of those days and were only 2 hours long in total, that left looooads of time for making friends. One of the definite bonuses of the stay in college was the food. Lucky for me (who isn’t a big meat eater), St John’s had lots of options and always something with chicken (which was the only meat I liked!). We were given three big complimentary meals a day, which we ate in the dining hall which resembles the Great Hall in Harry Potter (no surprise seeing as that was actually filmed in Oxford).

Another great thing about the interview experience (particularly at St John’s) was meeting international applicants. I met people from France, Vienna, Ecuador and Berlin to name a few, and as someone who has never lived anywhere except South-East England, it was amazing hearing people’s stories who had already lived and travelled around half the world.

In fact, here’s a quick list of my top 5 things to do when in Oxford:

  1. Go to the Covered Market- this is number one for sure because the Covered Market is home to the infamous Ben’s Cookies. Now if you’ve never had a Ben’s Cookie then OMGSKFJFIE BUY ONE! As a massive cookies fan, there is never a time when I visit Oxford and don’t get a melt-in-the-middle chocolate chip cookie from this heavenly shop. Trust me, it’s a must.
  2. Visit Blackwell’s- Blackwell’s is Oxford’s best bookshop, and actually kinda famous. Although the chain now has 45 stores, Oxford’s was the first. The main room, named ‘The Norrington Room’ has more than 160,000 books on over 3 miles worth of shelving- pretty cool (particularly to an English student).
  3. Try and look inside some colleges- if you’re 17/18, a great trick to pull is to say that you are a ‘prospective’ student, and generally they will let you look around most of the college for free. Many parts of Oxford colleges are open to the public at certain times of day, and it’s pretty cool to have a little look around them and spot some students in action.
  4. Go to the Bodleian library/ Radcliffe Camera- even if you don’t go inside either of them, the area surrounding them is extremely picturesque as you have the walls of Jesus college around you, and besides, the Radcliffe camera appears on half of the tourist postcards from Oxford, so you may as well see it in person.
  5. Go shopping- Oxford has lots of cute high street shops as well as the new shopping centre Westgate which has looooads of popular brand shops. And if you happen to be there at Christmas, the Christmas market on Broad Street makes for some cute photo opportunities.
christmas market

However, the experience wasn’t all fun conversation and matches of table tennis. Then it came to the interviews themselves.

In the UK, you always hear Oxford and Cambridge interview horror stories, and coming from someone who’s experienced it, yes it’s bad, but it’s also not THAT bad.

The questions they asked were all relevant to English and the things I had said on my personal statement. They were just very very very hard (or at least I felt they were). The way it goes for an English interview at St John’s (as it is slightly different for each college), was that half a hour before my scheduled interview I was given a poem to sit in silence and read through. I was allowed to make annotations, and then was escorted to my interview. The first part of each of my two interviews consisted of two tutors asking me questions about aspects of the poems.

I was prepared to list a whole load of linguistic devices which I had identified- but that is NOT what they want to hear. During your interviews, the interviewers are generally much more interested in hearing about ideas, critical thinking and deep analysis, and whether you can show that you’ve understood possible different meanings of the text. So you really can’t fake your knowledge, they can tell whether someone is truly passionate about their subject or whether they can just make it seem that way on paper.

So yeah, it didn’t go that well. The high point for me was definitely when I was asked ‘tell me about the moral implications of Gloucester’s fall in Act blah blah of King Lear’, to which I replied, ‘I’m sorry but I’m actually studying Hamlet’ and was met back with ‘but SURELY you’ve read King Lear’.

Yeah, in that moment I knew I wasn’t cut out for Oxford.

Still, the beauty of the experience was that for four days I could pretend I was an Oxford student, walking around the immensely beautiful buildings whilst making some true friends and without having the stress of ACTUALLY being an Oxford student.

Going back home afterwards, I knew that it could be a yes or a no and honestly, I wasn’t really that bothered. So when I opened my email in January to be met with rejection, yes I cried a little bit, but I knew that it was actually the right thing.

Oxford isn’t for everyone.

When talking to my brother about whether he thought it was seriously the place for me (whilst he was embarking on his third year as a PhysPhil student there), he said you have to have a real love and dedication for your subject to the point where you can handle constantly feeling that your work isn’t good enough. And I knew that, as much as I love English, I couldn’t deal with the pressure and constant demand to ‘be better’ that Oxford required. Choosing your university is such an important decision, and I firmly believe that every thing happens for a reason, so yes I was rejected, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough to do an English degree- just maybe not at Oxford.

And so I firmed Exeter. And I hope the next few weeks will confirm that it really is the place for me 🙂

P.S. If you have ever applied for anything and been rejected, don’t let it affect the way you see yourself and how much you’re worth. Rejection happens all the time, and most of the time, it will lead you to something better, so don’t give up xx

Sophie Xx

Ben's cookies my photos

Letter 2 – 13.09.18 The Last Day

Thursday 13th September 2018

Life takes you to unexpected places, love bring you home – anonymous

So today is the last full day I get to spend at home before I technically move out and travel to university tomorrow. Today I did my last minute shop to buy a chopping board, some cute copper baskets for my desk and of course, more fairy lights. So for today’s post I thought I would tell you a little bit about my experience prepping for university this last year and how it all happens in the UK.

So, in the UK when you are 17 (usually) you are encouraged to think about what route you want to take when you leave school – whether that is an apprenticeship, trying to get a job, taking a gap year or going straight to uni. For me, I knew immediately that I wanted to go to university (and having an older brother who had already gone through the process, it seemed like the most logical step for me to take).

So you want to go to uni, what next?

UCAS

Lucky for me, 99% of the people at my school also apply for university places so I was given a decent amount of support through my application. Here is pretty much how it goes (as far as I can remember):

  1. You start visiting uni open days to get a feel for a wide range of different unis e.g. campus or collegiate.
  2. You receive your predicted grades from school. These might help you decide on a degree subject and then can be used to compare with the grade requirements for different universities.
  3. You write your personal statement, which is basically an A4 page document explaining why you are a perfect candidate for your chosen course.
  4. You pick a maximum of 5 universities (it’s a little different for vocational degrees or medicine), send off your personal statement (and any extra documents they require) and wait to hear back…
  5. You receive letters of acceptance/ rejection from your universities. Here, if you’re accepted, they will outline the grade requirements you need to secure your place in the autumn.
  6. Time to pick your firm choice (1st choice) and insurance (2nd choice, usually lower grades to ensure you can get into somewhere!)
  7. And then it’s the scary part, you sit your exams and await the results…

A year later from when you began and you’re standing in your school hall, probably with your parents, clutching a piece of paper with your grades. And hopefully, you’ll be off to university a month later.

And so that’s what happens. It’s a little different for everyone, depending on your course, university choices etc. and it definitely isn’t always as simple as that. There are deadlines, last minute changes and an enormous amount of stress, stress and stress. But through it all you just have to remember- this happens every year, to every one, and it’s all worth it in the end.

So now that is all the general stuff over, well I think it’s time I tell you about my personal experience applying for university. Coming into Year 12 (or sixth form as it’s more commonly known), I was already pretty sure that I wanted to do my degree in English literature. I loved to read, I found english lessons not entirely dull, and (and this is what probably swung it), when I was in year 10 my English teacher told my mum, ‘I think Sophie should apply for English at Oxford’. And so I did.

exeterNow just to make it clear, I’m going to Exeter, not Oxford. And again that is a story for another post. So, I had decided on a course, now it was time to have a look at my university options. Lucky for me I had come out with a very solid set of predicted grades across my 4 A level subjects (English lit, Latin, Maths and Dance), so could pretty much choose wherever I wanted. So I looked up the league tables (not that they really tell you much) as well as a map of the UK so I could pinpoint where all these unis were. Eventually I came up with my 5 unis, and they were

  1. Oxford
  2. Exeter
  3. Bristol
  4. Warwick
  5. and Durham

Whilst on my summer holidays I strove to write my personal statement, filling it with self-praise and long words which I’d pinched from the thesaurus to try and make myself sound more academic. After several drafts, I sent it off along with the rest of my application. The road to Oxford was a very long process, and by January I received an email informing me that my application had been unsuccessful.

Moving on.

But I did manage to get offers from the other 4 unis I had applied to. I’d actually only visited Exeter and Warwick, and having looked on my map and realising just how far away Durham was, and knowing nothing about Bristol, I decided that Exeter would therefore be my first choice and Warwick my second. And then all that was left was to sit my A-level exams.

Jump forward two months and results day was upon me, and having been left home alone it was my job to wake up early and drive myself into school (alone) to pick up my results. Luckily, I had already received an email from Exeter (and from UCAS Track, which is the whole application system), telling me that my place had been confirmed.

So that made the drive to school a whooooole lot easier. I walked it, collected my results, chatted to my teachers and then went to Pizza Express to celebrate with one of my best friends and get free dough balls.

Not a bad day.

And so here we are, this time tomorrow I will be in the car on the way to Exeter, my little home in Buckinghamshire seeming like a world away. And despite being nervous,

I can’t wait 🙂

So, here’s to tomorrow…

Sophie Xx

packing

Letter 1 – 12.09.18 The Beginning

Wednesday 12th September 2018

In the end, we’ll all become stories… – Margaret Atwood

Hi, whoever may be reading this entry. My name is Sophie, and I’m an 18 girl who right this moment is sitting alone in her room surrounded by suitcases, bags and loose bits of clothing which constitutes my attempt at packing for university. The story of how I’ve ended up being two days away from leaving home and entering what I hope will be the best three years of my life to date is a story, however, for another post.

All that I have to say right this moment is, first of all, thank you for being here right now, I hope you enjoy reading what I hope will be regular and frequent entries on here about the events going on in my life, some of which will be exciting whilst other days merely mundane. And secondly I just want to say that I am so excited to be able to use this blog as a way of sharing a little piece of myself with the world (and not just because my older brother has just created his own blog too… though maybe partially because of that…).

Anyway, as it is currently 23:20, I think that I should probably head to bed and wait to upload my first *proper* post tomorrow,

Write soon,

Sophie Xx

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